Dining isn't exactly the word you would use for the Mongolian Bar-B-Q, tucked away in East Hollywood, but that doesn't mean you won't have fun.
The place is not only fun, it's memorable in more ways than one.
I was sitting at one of the tables, for instance, with strands of bean sprouts, cilantro and pork dangling from my chopsticks when the waitress, Michele, picked up a napkin and wiped a speck of food from my chin.
Now, that's not exactly the sort of service you might expect from anyone except perhaps your mom. But at the Mongolian Bar-B-Q it's not only OK, it's refreshing.
Michele, by the way, is the restaurant. She'll take you under her wing, rattle rapid-fire directions on what to order, how to order and what to do. And you'll need all the help you can get.
The procedure for dining at this unusual Chinese-Mongolian restaurant is simple once you've figured it out.
There is a buffet from which you select a combination of vegetables and meats. Mongolian cuisine, by the way, is mainly meat, but Chinese cultural overlays incorporated the vegetables that are stir-fried along with meat on a rotating metal wheel introduced to the Chinese during the Genghis Khan invasions in the 13th Century, according to Michele's menu. Somehow I believe her.
Then Michele or one of her relatives will take the bowl (which most customers seem to pile as high as Mt. Everest) and add dabs of sauces onto it from seven or eight different jars on the buffet. The sauces run from very mild to very hot and include a fish-sauce among them, so it's best to let the experts handle things. And if you ask what the sauces are, you will get, "It's a secret recipe," which means, "Don't ask."
Got it so far?
Now we move on to the barbecue wheel, where relative No. 2 snatches the bowl filled with raw ingredients such as pork, lamb, beef, or turkey plus onions, cabbage, lettuce, green peppers, celery, bean sprouts and green onions and drops them on the gas-heated wheel, which rotates as it cooks the food in one full round. Off the fire and back into the bowl it all goes and you are escorted to your seat, where a small egg roll and steamed rice await you. You will have noticed something wonderful once you start eating. The food tastes great and fresh and there is not a speck of grease to be seen. That's because the metal-topped stove utilizes no grease or oils in the cooking process. OK so far?
Well, it has been such fun that you want to do it again, which you certainly can do at dinner time but not at lunchtime for reasons only Michele can explain.
Now we come to the nitty-gritty--the cost.
The two servings of the bowl (that means two rounds at the buffet and at the wheel) at dinner time is $5.95 The lunchtime single round is $2.95 with a dessert, which I have yet to see or taste.
You can also have more food at dinner--all you can eat--for $7.95. But should you take more than you can eat, you pay the restaurant $3. That's the penalty. "You only have one stomach, so why take more than your stomach can digest?" Michele said. I scratched my head.
The $5.95 meal and the all-you-can-eat-meal come with a sesame biscuit and vegetable soup, which by Michele's admission "is not too good, but it's OK," meaning, the soup's a filler, not filling.
That's it. Take it or leave it. My advice?
Take it. It's fun.
Mongolian Bar-B-Q, 5401 Hollywood Blvd. (213) 464-6888. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Closed Mondays. Reservations for parties of six or more necessary. Cash only. Park on the street (with great care). Beer and wine available. $2.95 for lunch; $5.95 to $7.95 all-you-can-eat dinner.